Students learn how far a penny can go

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February 1, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Iola school children — and the rest of town — might soon be thinking peace every time they pull a penny from their pockets.
In conjunction with the Iola Reads’ spring selection of “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, Iola schools will feature jugs to collect pennies for the effort to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Called “Pennies for Peace,” the movement was founded by Mortenson after failed attempts to convince wealthy celebrities to donate to his cause. Instead, American school children who learned of his efforts donated their spare change. A movement was born. Mortenson, a mountaineer, literally stumbled into Korphe, Pakistan, after abandoning an attempt to climb K-2, the world’s second-highest peak, along the China-Pakistan border. The mountain is in the Karakoram range, one of the world’s most rugged and inaccessible regions.
Balti people, Muslims with cultural roots in Tibet, live in the mountains’ lower reaches and of late have earned their living as porters to high-altitude thrill seekers.
Mortenson was changed by his encounter with the Balti after becoming disoriented descending the peaks. Nursed back to health by Balti villagers, he vowed to repay the kindness by returning to build them a school.

HIS ORIGINAL promise has led to completion of 140 schools so far, said Gail Dunbar, who, with USD 257 school librarians, saw Mortenson speak in Kansas City in December.
Many of the schools are specifically for girls, who had been denied an education in the Islamic communities. The most recent schools are being constructed in Afghanistan. There, our pennies can go further, Mortenson noted; $600 can pay one teacher’s salary for an entire year; $5,000 supports an existing school for one year.

DUNBAR SAID the collection jugs will be placed in schools beginning Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
However, a few classes at Lincoln and McKinley elementary schools are so excited about the project that they have begun collecting already, said librarian Tammy Prather.
After Prather read them “Listen to the Wind,” a children’s version of Mortenson’s efforts, the classes “were so moved that these children did not have schools that they’ve taken it upon themselves to start,” Prather noted, “even though we haven’t officially kicked it off.”
At Lincoln Elementary, the tale coincided with a money unit in math class, said kindergarten teacher Becky Helms.
“We were talking about the value of money and when this came up, we talked about how a penny isn’t worth much to us, but can mean a lot to others.” Her class “just went crazy” with excitement to help, she said, and in eight days already has collected half a dishpan’s worth of pennies — enough to supply two school children in Afghan-istan with supplies for a full year.
The Iola branch of Community National Bank has agreed to match $100 raised by the effort, said Ken Gilpin, bank president.
School libraries will show videos about the Pennies for Peace and Mortenson’s school-building efforts. Other activities will vary at each school.
Middle schoolers are perusing the young adult version of “Three Cups of Tea.”
“There are many more photographs in the young adult book and that appeals to students,” Dunbar said. Mortenson’s daughter, Amira, now 12, writes her own segment of that book.
Adult versions of the book are available at all Iola Reads book locations, including Iola Pharmacy, The Family Physicians, Iola Public Library, Allen County Community College library, Iola City office, Iola Vision Source and more. Book numbers are already running low, said librarian Leah Oswald of Iola Public Library. “Be sure to bring them back after you read them,” she said.
Books are purchased through a grant from the Sleeper Family Trust. A $2 donation is asked for those books that are not returned.
ACCC librarian Steve Anderson will lead an adult book discussion at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Flewharty House, Dunbar said. Young adult discussions will be held in the schools.

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